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Aliaa’s Story: Returning to Engineering at Skanska Costain STRABAG

Aliaa Hajjeah

Aliaa, Senior Project Controls Engineer, Skanska Costain STRABAG (SCS), (10 year break)

I graduated as a Civil Engineer in 2000 in Iraq where I worked for a few years as a Lecturer/Laboratory Manager at the Building and Construction Engineering Department at my University. I then joined Bechtel Corporation at the Iraq Infrastructure Reconstruction Programme (IIRP) as a Project Controls Engineer within the Core Project Controls Team. When the Programme completed, Bechtel transferred me to London to join the West Coast Route Modernisation Programme (WCRM) as part of the Reporting team for two years.

In late 2008, I got married and moved to the UAE. I took a career break for ten years, in which time I raised three kids and relocated. When the children were all settled at schools, I was ready to return to work. Throughout those ten years I developed different skills including time management, communication skills, and adaptability which helped me manage unexpected changes. Through accepting challenges, I also developed passions for different things.

The journey of finding a job was quite overwhelming and difficult. My self-esteem and confidence were fading away and I struggled to find a clear direction to steer myself towards, but my inner warrior kept me going. I approached friends in the construction industry as well as my local council to help me, attending workshops to improve my CV for job applications and boost my personal skills for interviews.

After nearly a year, I heard from a friend about a Career Returners Programme and that’s when I came across Women Returners. I started applying through their website to a few construction companies which had introduced successful programmes. I joined Turner and Townsend Returners Programme but unfortunately because of COVID I was not offered a permanent role. Being part of the Returners Programme was great for getting over my fears, building career objectives, networking, strengthening my personal branding, and using my core skills and previous experiences in my new role.

During the first lockdown, I restarted looking for jobs which wasn’t easy! This time I explored LinkedIn networking and I found Women into Construction (WiC) which runs a condensed programme for women who are willing to work in the Construction industry. This is another brilliant network for women and I learnt a lot when I was shadowing an Engineering Site Manager. I was also assigned a Mentor from Skanska who I give credit to for his valuable insights, efforts, and time. I took onboard all his notes and comments when I had my interviews through the lockdown period. A few months later, via Women Returners, I was offered a job on the Skanska Costain STRABAG JV Returners Programme.

Working during the lockdown was challenging. It was hard to express my soft skills to my colleagues, but the Project Controls Team and in particular my line manager was very supportive and approachable. As a new starter to the Project, my line manager arranged virtual meetings to help me understand the work process and strategies as well as sharing information and knowledge. The Coaching Programme from Women Returners helped me to re-construct my confidence, identify and use my strengths and build connections, which have all supported me as I returned to work.